From the Ground Up: An Insider’s Perspective on a Roman Catholic Laity Grassroots Campaign

I am part of a group called Catholic RENEWAL, which seeks to act as a forum for progressive Roman Catholics to come together in fellowship and advocate for various causes, such as inclusion of women in the priesthood, inclusion of the laity in church processes, more liberal stances on social issues such as sexual ethics, and generally working toward what we see as a more “just” Church.  This often puts us, technically speaking, outside the bounds of Catholic doctrine.  We accept this as part of our endeavor to enact the Kingdom of God (as we see it) within the structure of the RCC.  However, this often means we start from the ground up.

This semester, we have focused our efforts in organizing around lobbying Cardinal O’Malley to present a progressive stance on the issue of contraception at the upcoming Synod on the Family in October.  This synod, predicted to have significant effect on Church policy, has been marketed toward the laity as a chance to express their perspectives to the authorities in the RCC–something that is seldom done.  While many Church leaders have taken this as an opportunity to engage with their dioceses on various issues under this theme, Cardinal O’Malley has not done so.  We believe that this is a mistake–not just with regard to the subject matter (dicey no matter which way you look at it), but within the implications of engaging with the laity, as well.

See, Cardinal O’Malley is an incredibly intelligent man.  (I don’t care what others say, one does not become a Cardinal in the RCC without being decently intelligent.)  And as an intelligent man, I’m sure he recognizes that many Catholics disagree with the Church hierarchy on a number of issues.  Giving that critical mass of people freedom to express their opinions and having those opinions perhaps make a real difference is a terrifying thought for those in power.

I’m not claiming to be able to read the Cardinal’s mind–perhaps he has a different motivation altogether.  I’m only saying that there is a reason why no one in our group has been able to get a response from anyone in his office.

Well, for my part, at least, I cannot justify not speaking out, regardless of the power structures involved.  Many of those regarded as saints within the Catholic tradition are only regarded as such because they dared to speak truth to power, whatever its form.  I may not be ordained, and I’m fairly certain I am no saint, but I cannot, and will not, be silent regarding this issue, if only for the reason that this is my Church, too.  Let me say that again: THIS IS MY CHURCH, TOO.

In some ways, I cannot say that I care overly much where this conversation leads.  The fact that we can even have it, in whatever limited form it takes, is enough for me.

Below, please find a statement articulating why we feel that this is an important issue to talk about, and a link to our campaign’s petition.  Please consider signing, if you feel so moved.  Please consider sharing your thoughts and opinions if you have any.  And may we all continue to work within and without our traditions to create a more tolerant, peaceful world.

We are Catholics, and we are deeply worried.  We are concerned with the state of affairs in the Church, and as members of the Body of Christ, we feel obligated to present our concerns.

The current policy regarding the morality of the use of contraception in the Church must be loosened in order to more effectively contribute to stronger and healthier families. Certainly, we are not suggesting that the official teachings be changed, nor are we necessarily advocating for a rewrite in terms of theology. This is not a debate regarding sexual ethics, abortion, or any other related issues.  Rather, we propose that the Church rework its policy to better care for the Body of Christ, and allow for more spaces of flourishing to commence.

The Church already has a precedent set up in which contraception is deemed acceptable.  This process, called Natural Family Planning, or NFP, is advocated by the Church as a natural means of birth control, in which a couple uses scientific methodologies to track the days in which they are most fertile and infertile.  No object—whether a birth control pill or a condom—is added, thus rendering one’s sexual actions both unitive and procreative.  While other methods of contraception do utilize particular means of preventing pregnancy, it is worth noting that a form of contraception is, in fact, being practiced already within the Church.  (The Church has also set a precedent for the use of condoms in various countries, in order to halt the spread of HIV and other STD’s.)

A more relaxed policy toward contraception directly impacts the quality of life for families, as well.  Women who use contraception (and thus do not get pregnant) have more opportunities to pursue education, training, and professional opportunities, helping to get them and their families out of the cycle of poverty.   They are better able to care for their children in terms of having access to prenatal care, nutritious food, and safe environments, as a direct result of this increased financial and familial stability.  With a stable social and economic foundation, families are much more likely to be physically and mentally healthier and further contribute to their own flourishing.   In addition, the children will be far more likely to earn good grades in school, participate in extra-curriculars, and be less inclined to engage in criminal behaviors.

Finally, and most poignantly, allowing more access to contraception will directly support women who are subjected to institutional violence.   By providing better access to contraception, the mortality rate for women and girls in developing countries will be reduced dramatically, in addition to lowering the infant mortality rate by extension.  Furthermore, without a child to care for, these women and girls are better equipped to escape the cycle of violence and poverty through access to education, whose benefits are explained in the previous paragraph.  This not only provides for more stability for women, but also recognizes and affirms their inherent dignity and right to live a life free of violence.  In addition, with access to safe contraceptive methods, the rate of women dying or having chronic health issues from unsafe abortion methods would decrease dramatically, as well as allowing for physical and psychological healing from the situation.

To be sure, this change would stir up some questions regarding the theological underpinnings of other issues, such as sexual ethics and abortion. This is unavoidable, and it is understandable that the Church would be loath to open that particular can of worms.  However, life is rarely (if ever) convenient, and the fact remains that to continue on this trajectory regarding contraception means directly contributing to a global culture of death and violence and condemning people to a continuous cycle of poverty and oppression.  We are not saying that this is necessarily the most ideal solution to this problem.  However, it is the solution that can directly combat a whole host of problems until the day comes when it is no longer necessary.

For more information, see here.

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